The Lions moved to 3-1 on the season with a gritty, grind-it-out road victory over their division rival.
Allen Park — When guarding a point guard in basketball, it’s sound strategy to force him to dribble and drive with his non-dominant hand. In the NFL, a similar concept applies. One of the best ways to beat an opponent is to do whatever you can to take away what they do best.
Teams will try to make you play left-handed, Detroit Lions coach Jim Caldwell has been known to say.
But here’s the thing with the 2017 Lions. They’re showing a knack of embracing their left hand and have no problem beating you with it, if that’s what it takes to secure a victory.
Take Detroit’s two early-season road wins as a prime example. No one who has watched the Lions play in recent years would consider the team’s ground game to be good. Just last week, Caldwell noted the Lions aren’t built to be dominant on the ground, the goal is respectability.
So who could have anticipated the game plans the Lions would deploy against the New York Giants and Minnesota Vikings, two stingy run defenses? Instead of being forced to use their left hand, the Lions embraced it. Instead of judiciously using the run to set up the pass, they lined up with two or three tight ends and attempted it to ram it down their opponents’ throats.
That’s not to say offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter is slowly morphing into Bo Schembechler, or that the Lions are even close to shedding their offensive identify as a pass-first team, but the reason they are 2-0 on the road is because they committed to and executed a game plan that is counter to their strong suit.
“I’m not certain I would say we’re not good at it; we just haven’t gotten to where we want to, yet,” Caldwell said. “We’ve talked about you better be able to run the ball against guys that can rush the passer as well as (Minnesota) can and the problems they can create for you in your pass game, leaving you outnumbered and things of that nature.
“I think with running the ball, No. 1, our time of possession was where it should be,” Caldwell said. “No. 2, we did not completely become inept all across the board, from an offensive standpoint, because we did find some cracks.”
Against the Giants, the Lions struggled on the ground, but they stuck with it. And when Ameer Abdullah took a handoff with fewer than four minutes remaining and broke off a 34-yard gain, it was the play that broke the Giants’ back. The Lions ran seven straight times after that, all but running out the clock on the 14-point win.
Things went far better against the Vikings, one of the NFL’s best run defenses entering the game. Leaning heavily on Abdullah from the start, the third-year back out of Nebraska nearly eclipsed 100 yards for the first time in his career, before a fourth-quarter ankle injury ended his day.
“We go into a game, we look at what we think we can do best, and we try to attack it,” Caldwell said. “We also look for things that best function for us in that particular game because you might not always be able to go in and do the things that you love doing.”
This is not to say the Lions won’t air it out and beat you the way their used to getting it done. When the game plan calls for it, quarterback Matthew Stafford has no problem throwing 40 or 50 times and piling up a gaudy stat line.
But these Lions are proving they don’t need to do that week after week. This group seems capable of beating you in multiple ways — whether that’s running the ball, leaning on a turnover-happy defense or getting big special teams plays from kicker Matt Prater or rookie return man Jamal Agnew.
These Lions want to have many different scripts that all have the same ending, a notch in the win column.